On Taking Advice

Michael Phelps

A short thought on taking advice:

Business school case studies almost always go into details about some successful company or individual. Rarely, if ever, do they try to dissect a failure. I have heard a story that when a Harvard MBA student asked why this was the case, the answer was that there are a million ways to fail but very few paths to success. The objective of case studies was to present a cross-section of successful businesses and have students try to find the common threads. Seems sensible enough.

On the other hand, we have this article from today’s Globe and Mail wherein a reporter tries to eat the same diet as Michael Phelps in the hopes of improving his Olympic prospects. I won’t repeat the article, but Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day which is roughly equivalent to five days worth of food for a normal adult male. I suspect that if you studied a lot of Olympians you’d find that many of them eat around this much food while they’re training.

Putting these two ancedotes together, if I was a Harvard MBA students I might come to the conclusion that the key to athletic success is eating several thousand calories a day. As the reporter discovers, doing this and this alone merely makes one short of breath.

My point – and I do have one – is that when you’re studying how other Product Managers operate don’t fixate too much on any one specific element of their success. Make sure you separate causes from effects. Look closely at what people are doing because often the roots of success are fundamentally tedious and all the glamorous stuff (perhaps only I consider eating twelve thousand calories a day glamorous) is just a side-effect.


3 responses to “On Taking Advice

  1. It’s not so much the quantity of food that would get me, it’s the sheer time that it would take to prepare / consume it all! I agree that all too often we take a look at results that Product Mangers get and then try to do a simple trace back in order to learn their secrets. Unless there really is a Hogwarts school for Product Managers, I don’t think that this is going to work.

    There are plenty of good product managers out there – it’s the great ones that we all want to be more like. I would argue that the difference often comes down to if a PM decides to focus on managing products or people. This is a trick question of course, the correct answer is that truly great PMs find a way to balance both. It takes an Olympian to do this correctly.

    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    Blue Elephant Consulting

  2. I’m always looking for ways that things succeed AND fail. It’s important to understand the reasons for both. You cannot ignore the failures or you will definitely be doomed to repeat them.

    I agree there may be millions of ways to fail, but only trying to replicate the steps that led to success initially may be one of the ways to fail in subsequent attempts. And one of those failures might work this time.

    You have to look at everything, even what didn’t work so that you can try it again, try it again after modifying it, or make sure you don’t do it again.

    Ivan Chalif

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